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DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: Two Sides of the Tourism Coin

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Don't Shoot the MessengerTourism can be an ugly word.

During the most recent Super Bowl, hosted at Levi Stadium south of San Francisco, the city once known for art, love and tolerance took a decidedly different tact and reportedly pushed out homeless men and women to “clean up” the city for tourists visiting for the Big Game.

Yes, tourism can be a tricky calculation: There is a desire to pull in revenue, but it also can come with costs. A simple rule of thumb is that a visitor spends more than $100 per person per day when visiting—money spent on lodging, food, tickets; new blood pumping into the system—but that money also can have an adverse effect on the people who permanently live there, ratcheting up their housing and food prices.

Bend, Oregon has been a particularly keen case study in the dangers of overly successful tourism. Over the past 20 years, the once sleepy ski town has aggressively promoted its outdoor activities, not to mention beer. Yet, as fun as it is to visit, it also has become an economically challenging city for many residents. A year ago, city council there needed to effectively ban—or, at least drastically limit—short-term rentals like AirBnb after certain downtown neighborhoods had been transformed into something more like a large party hotel with nearly half of the houses available for short-term, weekend rentals—and rental and purchase prices for residents soaring out of control. (Ashland also restricted short-term rentals several years ago.)

Ashland—and southern Oregon—are particularly vulnerable to the flip side of tourism: During the eight month season, some quarter-million people visit the area to watch a Shakespeare play, a number twenty-fold the residential population of the city. With these tourists, they bring millions in revenue. Yet it is a delicate balance between creating a city for tourists, and a city for residents.

In this issue, we don’t directly look at that calculation, but we do welcome back the theater season to the region, with profiles of a costume-maker (one of the many local residents employed by the tourist economy) and a theater manager in Grants Pass.

Also in this issue, we recognize that a number of our articles regard the impact tourism has on the region.

In our Screen section, we look at the Oregon Production Investment Fund. For the past decade, it has helped lure TV and film productions to the state by providing rebates as much as 20 percent for money spent in Oregon on hotels and jobs. It holds responsibility for TV shows like “Grimm” filming in Portland and Wild in southern Oregon—and the $10 million set aside each year in the Oregon budget for these rebates draws in an estimated tenfold return as production companies, as they rent hotel rooms, rack up catering bills and hire locals to build sets. Brothers in Law, for example, starring Bill Pullman was shot in Klamath Falls for a month, and brought $700,000 to that area.

More long-term, movies can inspire tourism to a region. Thirty years after The Goonies elevated Haystack Rocks from a local treasure into an international icon for millions of children, Astoria, where most of the film was produced, still enjoys an estimated 30 visitors each month strictly based on the enduring charm of the film.

Also, take a look at our Sports section this issue, which profiles the upcoming high school Alpine Ski Racing Championships which will be hosted in early March on Mt. Ashland. The girls’ team from Ashland High placed second last year, with very little on-snow training. And now, with a solid season of training and home-hill advantage, they have a chance to win. Just as exciting, the event brings enthusiasm and revenue to the region, as hundreds of teenagers and their parents and coaches will spend a weekend in the area.

Yes, not all tourism is created equally—and certainly, it is how it is handled by a region which determines whether it is an economic virtue or vice.

 

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